Your complete guide to surviving coronavirus self-quarantine with kids

Amber Johnston, a Georgia home educator, instructs her daughters.

Schools are closed. Businesses are locking their doors earlier, and health experts are recommending families self-quarantine as the coronavirus pandemic quickly spreads throughout the United States. Locking yourself indoors, however, can have some particularly stressful implications for parents, many of whom have been forced to balance work from home and childcare. 

Educators offering tips online and to parents of the students they instruct emphasized the importance of creating a schedule to mimic students’ school routines. Jamie Heston, a board member of the Homeschool Association of California, recommended in a CNN interview letting students help decide what they will do each day. “There are lots of ways you can have fun and have it be educational, [and] not just be sitting at a table with a book open,” Heston told the news network. Use baking to teach math and chemistry, gardening to teach botany or interactive mobile apps to learn about outer space, CNN reported.

During this stressful time, educational experts and parents have crafted schedules, project ideas, writing prompts, and web-based activities to help children stay on course. Daily Kos staff members got together our favorites to help families make the best of their time home.

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Dr. Jessie Voigts, a homeschooler and founder of Wandering Educators, emphasized the importance of recess in her interview with CNN. “A walk in the woods is not only healthy for your body and spirit, but your mind, too,” Voigts said. “What new plants are growing? What bugs can you find under decaying logs? Count the tree rings in a downed tree. Reroute a waterway in a little creek. See how the sun moves through the sky. There are so many ways to learn.”

Sal Khan, founder of the educational nonprofit Khan Academy, and his team created mock schedules as well as interactive exercises, videos, and live streams available on Facebook and YouTube weekdays at 9 AM PST.

Watch until the end for quick summaries of things to do with children of different ages:

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Activities for young children:

Build a cardboard road—Now that you’re likely getting more household items delivered these days, TIME magazine recommends putting those cardboard boxes to good use and creating roads from them. Just flatten the cardboard; draw road lines; and add trucks, trains, blocks, and other toys for your children to let their imaginations run wild.

Run a toy car wash—Bathtubs don’t have to be used only for washing little ones. Let your children run and operate their own toy car washes using their favorite toy trucks and cars, child bubbles or tear-free soaps, and washcloths. 

Create some garbage art—Let your children create art projects from recycled materials, their favorite paints, glitter, and crayons. Use safety scissors to cut paper into small pieces and paste them, and have your toddlers place small stickers on their projects. Manipulating small objects from Cheerios to fruit snacks can help children learn the pincer grasp and promote fine motor skills, according to pediatricians interviewed for Parents magazine.

Fly a kite—This activity is as easy as buying a kite online and flying it for your little one when the wind is cooperating. My son loves chasing behind his airplane kite, and it’s a great activity to get children up and moving during recess. 

Enjoy the aquarium—Check out the Georgia Aquarium’s live feeds of aquariums and offerings. My son gets a kick out of staring at the fish and colorful tanks. 

Wash a few dishes—In a pinch, I let my son use his step stool to stand at the sink and play with the sponge and a few plastic dishes in water. As it turns out, there are actual developmental benefits. Squeezing a sponge can help boost grip and finger strength, according to Parents magazine. 

Have fun with stacking and dumping—Laying out a basket of oranges and stacks of Tupperware and bowls provided my son, a toddler, equivalent of hours of entertainment (or 15 minutes by my adult standard). He grouped the oranges, placed them in and out of the basket and rolled them on the floor. Loading and unloading is a common favorite at our house. “While this activity may seem dull, it takes integrated muscle movements, concentration, and cognitive reasoning,” experts told Parents magazine.

Activities for students in kindergarten through second grades:

Explore the world from home—Order a map of the United States and have children use stickers to identify places they’ve been and places they would like to go.

Listen to an educational podcast—Khan Academy recommends “Wow in the World!” for science and technology stories, the “Stories Podcast” for science information, “Circle Round” to hear a story, or “Noodle Loaf” to learn about music.

Try a new book—The Association for Library Service to Children recommends several in its summer reading list.

Write and illustrate a story—Have children tell a tale about someone having a fun adventure or being homesick, Khan Academy recommends.

Draw pictures—Have students draw what they think a virus looks like and talk about the different parts of their photos.

Activities for older children:

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Explore Khan Academy—The program offers math, grammar, and reading comprehension practice opportunities. “We recommend starting at your grade level and doing 1-2 practice sets per day (or 10 practice sets per week),” Khan Academy experts said. “This should take about 10-20 minutes per day.” 

Check out a new book—The Association for Library Service to Children recommends several titles in its summer reading list for third through fifth grades and sixth through eighth grades. The We Are Teachers media site for educators also recommends these books for middle school students.

Use a writing prompt—Khan Academy suggests having children grades third through fifth, “write a funny or exciting adventure story about what happens when school is closed.” For sixth through ninth, “research how the (coronavirus) spreads and different plans that leaders have made to slow it or stop it.” Students could also create a list of jobs that could contribute to a solution and why they want a specific job on the list. For 10th through 12th grades, predict how society will be different following the pandemic, and explain how the coronavirus differs from the flu.

Listen to an educational podcast—For students in third, fourth, and fifth grades, Khan Academy recommends “Brains On!” for science stories or “Story Pirates” for funny stories children created. For sixth through ninth grades, try “RadioLab” for science, “Forever Ago” for history, or “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls” for biographies. For grades 10th through 12th, check out “This American Life,” “RadioLab,” or “Science Friday.”

Try computer programming—“Programming computers is far more fun and creative than you probably ever imagined,” Khan Academy experts contend. “Start by creating fun cartoons and animations and work your way up to creating fun games that your friend can play.”

Get active—Try to keep up in a Just Dance workout or a 15-minute yoga video on YouTube. 

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